How I Met Your Father Season 2 Episode 7 Review: “A Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Valentine’s Day”

"A Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Valentine's Day"

For weeks, How I Met Your Father has been building momentum towards an episode like “A Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Valentine’s Day” – even in slighter episodes like “Pathetic Deirdre” and “Ride or Die”, HIMYF‘s been putting in a lot of effort in building out its group dynamic (including having a lot more scenes with everyone together this season). That work pays off in the vibrant, driven “A Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Valentine’s Day”, in what is easily the series most confident, driven 22 minutes yet.

I love how “A Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Valentine’s Day” is structured as the inverse of last week’s “Universal Therapy”; instead of the group funneling their emotional damage through Ellen for their own purposes, she uses them for her own desire to escape a depressing holiday (when she finds out Rachel will be out of town, and not get to see the nude ice sculpture Ellen had made) by asking them to tell their most depressing V-Day stories to her.

"A Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Valentine's Day"

What ensues is classic HIMYM/F cutaway fare, an episode set in one location in the present, but spending the majority of its time flashing around to different points in its characters past. Naturally, this entices audiences with its ability to sprinkle narrative crumbs throughout the script; in this episode alone, we learn how Jesse and Valentina met, how Sid and Hannah got together, and the roots of Jesse’s impulsive romanticism. As a subscriber to the Yellow Umbrella Theory (we’ll talk more about that in later reviews), I’m on board with HIMYF doing this – in season one, however, sometimes it felt like a show doing this out of desperate necessity, pulling The Captain off the roster’s deep bench for fun or making Sophie’s first date a marine biologist.

Here, it is work being done to enrich the emotions of its main characters, the very reason why reveals like Sophie/Valentina’s “meet cute” and Jesse’s flashbacks work so well – and as HIMYF has settled into its natural voice, its stories have started to reflect that confidence. “A Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Valentine’s Day” hums along for 22 minutes, nimbly moving from Jesse’s third-grade mustache to Sophie’s beautiful “What other choice do I have?” declaration at the episode’s end.

It’s not an easy thing to make those two, wildly dissonant moments work within the same episode – but the script (credited to Amy-Jo Perry, in her first writing credit on the series) is focused and confident in the audience’s trust. It’s a really understated element to a comedy finding itself; any comedy can give Jesse ecstasy, or have him embarrass himself at an Occupy Wall Street protest – but not every sitcom can have a contemplative moment like Sophie and Jesse quietly sharing pieces of chocolate, which is arguably the quietest 10 seconds of the entire series.

While most certainly a tiny element of a much larger episode to focus on, the final Jesse/Sophie scene is such a resonant one. Jesse spends the entire episode railing against the evils of a corporate holiday – until its revealed he’s just bad at the holiday, because he had a habit of telling every girl he met “I love you” (even if they didn’t know his name… Jesse’s really a dude after my own heart sometimes, I will admit). But he’s the only bitter one amongst the group, and though so many of the stories (from Charlie’s terrible romance novel adaptation, to Sid’s big moment of maturity) are told to make Ellen feel better, they work to break walls down between Jesse and Sophie – and more importantly, within Jesse himself.

"A Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Valentine's Day"

I’ve loved Jesse’s slight antagonistic turn in recent weeks; it’s understandable, given he’s just shattered his love life (and almost his professional one). But each of these stories are avenues for Jesse to reflect, to consider his position as someone closed off to the world of cheesy romantic gestures (everything bagel heart, anyone? Man, that thing probably smelled so good… for the first few hours). It does so by positing that we’re all defined by our failures and heartbreaks; and the things that have hurt us, can be powerful vessels to bring people together, especially those that have found a path to healing, and can look back and laugh at the things they’ve done.

A quiet message, and not one this episode brings forth from its subtext very often; but it is a powerful one, and resonates through that final conversation at the bar between Jesse and Sophie. It’s certainly fun to see all these flashbacks, and watch HIMYF start to construct its timeline and set up references for future episodes to pick up – but those amorphous, overarching narrative teases are never going to resonate as much as the smaller moments between its protagonists can.

“A Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Valentine’s Day” feels like it was constructed to imitate the rhythms of a particularly creative sub-genre of How I Met Your Mother episodes; however, its adherence to make its way back to Jesse/Sophie, to end the episode (in 2023, at least) with Jesse asking Sophie how she’s still able to be hopeful and happy on such a loaded, emotional holiday, is a watershed moment for the series. Somber and revealing, Jesse’s pleads to understand how she keeps her head held high is a really touching moment, a reminder that you’ll never be able to see what’s coming or right around the corner, if your head is constantly towards the ground or looking over your shoulder.

"A Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Valentine's Day"

Certainly a simple message – and one future Sophie doesn’t really relay to her son, except that “love feels so goood” – but a good one for How I Met Your Father to hang its hat on, given that its about characters in their late 20’s and early 30’s, the time when that idealism and pragmatism are waging war on one’s psyche. And goddamnit, I love the finality of Sophie’s response when Jesse asks her how she brings herself to forget about the past and enjoy every Svalentine’s Day (it’s Sophie+Valentina+Valentine, duh) with a full heart and open mind; she tells him “What choice do I have?… Chocolate helps”, and they quietly share a few pieces together before we flash back to future Sophie.

How I Met Your Father‘s second season has been on a bit of a hot streak after stumbling out of the gate, and with “A Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Valentine’s Day”, is definitively a series on the rise as it heads towards the conclusion of the season’s first (of two) parts. While there’s still a lot of uncertainty ahead for the series (including its second use of a HIMYM icon), for the moment, all is good in the world of HIMYF – especially for those who held faith through some of the show’s growing pains, in hopes it would find its way to episodes like this one.

Grade: A-

Other thoughts/observations:

  • You got your girlfriend a Little Caesar’s Pizza? Unless she’s trying to tell her she’s “hot n’ready”, I would almost take that as an insult….. THEY’RE IN FUCKING NEW YORK CITY!!! I cannot escape this detail.
  • “Haaaaaave you met Molly?” Now this is the kind of recall I can get behind.
  • I love how this show is incorporating Drew (post-season premiere, of course) into both its past and present.
  • Yeah, I would totally tell the girl who read all the Animorphs books I loved her too soon. Can’t blame Jesse there.
  • Wait, Sophie’s favorite N*SYNC member was Chris? That is absolute insanity, and something this show cannot just drop on us and not return to.
  • Yes, there is a Lizzie McGuire clip thrown in as a flashback. Should the show do this more often? As someone who never watched LM, that’s a big shrug – though if they can continue to license material from the series, could provide a bit of Robin Sparkles-esque energy to some of the flashbacks (though in a very different, less ‘famous pop singer’ kind of context, given Sophie’s character).
  • Want to feel old? “Before He Cheats” is now old enough to vote.
  • We are going to meet Brendan one day, I imagine? HIMYM was always a mixed bag with its stunt guest casting (Britney Spears > Katie Holmes, for example)… though Meghan Trainor was so lifelessly bad, there’s really nowhere to go but up from there.

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